In 2004, Antonioni said his final farewell with a small masterpiece, the short “Lo Sguardo di Michelangelo”, a gift to the senses that hides and important message.
The double gaze of Michelangelo Antonioni /
A figure looks out behind a large gate; its thin shadow spills over the marble and onto the pavement. Wrapped in the reverberation of space, the man walks deep in thought among the majestic columns of the temple. When he’s there, his presence is meaningless, barely a shadow among many others that trust faith and restlessly devote themselves to praying every day. Nothing about this scene would be extraordinary if the church was not San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, and the fragile old man was not Michelangelo Antonioni.
It is often the case that when a genius leaves, humanity suffers from an irreparable void. The year of 1616 will always be remembered for two losses: Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare; July 30th, 2007 will be known for the deaths of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni.
But Antonioni did not say goodbye until he made sure we received his last message. In 2004, and practically disabled due to brain paralysis, he created his last film: Lo Sguardo di Michelangelo.
Antonioni, the flag bearer of the cinematic vanguard of the Sixties, bid us farewell with this delicate chamber piece, barely fifteen minutes long, which holds what appears to be a lifetime of questions and creative wakes. The figure we mentioned before, the old man shrouded in mystery that penetrates the porch of San Pietro in Vincoli, walks slowly towards the majestic spectacle of Julio II’s grave, brought into the world by the hands of one of the greatest geniuses of all time: Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Originally conceived for Saint Peter’s Basilica, and noticeably lessened in terms of its original conception because of the donation cut-off imposed by the Pope, the group is presided by the enormous sculpture of Moses. Shyly, Antonioni stands before said vastness as a child struck by the immensity of his first ocean. In silence, he contemplates with uncertainty each and every detail, every fold in the dresses, the wrinkles of the skin, each strand of marble hair. His hesitance projects the feeling of doubt; Antonioni’s expression, even more dramatic because of his limited mobility, invites us to enter the perennial mystery of Beauty.
The gaze of Michelangelo is the gaze of perfection which the director has before the captivating work of the sculptor, but also of the sculptor over the totality of art. Antonioni eagerly projects “il suo sguardo” over Moses by trying to understand, to unveil, the mystery of its enormous perfection. By doing so, it is precisely the gaze of Buonarroti that stretches before him, and which the Ferrara director is humbled and voluntarily lessened by. A double gaze that embraces centuries to draw attention to what is essential in the creation of man.
The same man who revolutionised film narrative with The Adventure (1960), and that reached unsurpassable levels of perfection with The Night (1961), is reverentially inclined towards the colossal device of Moses, before their palpitating life, with a total awareness of his own insignificance. Trying to understand —it could seem Antonioni— trying to approach, even if this is meagrely,the wisdom contained by the roundness of Moses’ marble blood, work of works.
How can we reach the apex of life contained by his gaze, the illusory fury of the hand parting the beard? How can we, unbelieving and disenchanted creatures possess the same seriousness, the same elevated gaze? Beauty, he seems to tell us, should not be given up easily, we can still shed light on immortal works, we can still carve light with the same precision as Michelangelo, to create a living and memorable films that reminds us all of how far we can go. As the men that we are, we can, following the example of the great names of history, feel that we have the ability to soar above our condition and try to be as great as they are.
This is the invitation that Antonioni’s gaze extends: to remember that those who illuminated the world with so much immortal beauty were just men, and that we must let the presence of their work continue to be a happy reminder to us all.
Tagged: Michelangelo Antonioni, cinema, filmmakers, inspiration